August

And, once again, it is my birthday. 59, and the official start of my sixtieth year; my fifties are now in the rear view mirror. It’s so strange. I don’t think I ever believed I would make it this far–I certainly didn’t during the plague years, when I just assumed I would inevitably contract HIV and begin the slow agonizing descent to death I had watched so many others experience. It’s weird how much the world has changed since when I was a little boy reading my middle-grade mysteries and dreaming of someday becoming a writer like Carolyn Keene or Franklin W. Dixon (little did I know at the time that neither was a real person and a number of different writers had written the books I was so addicted to). I’ve been watching a lot of 1970’s movies lately during my condom packing work-at-home days, and even that seems like the distant past…although it kind of was; 1979 was over forty years ago.

How terrifying that thought is!

I’ve never minded getting older; frankly, there were times in my life when I was relatively certain I wasn’t going to live to a ripe old age. So every birthday, in some ways, feels like a triumph of sorts. Back in the 1980’s and 1990’s–before the development of the “cocktail”, infection and death seemed inevitable to me, and I became sort of resigned to it. That feeling of inevitability, I think, was part of what finally pushed me into pursuing my writing dream seriously–I never knew how much time I had, and I didn’t want to die regretting never having put any serious effort into it. It seems strange to be oddly grateful to a plague for pushing me to pursue my dreams…and yes, if I had to choose between being pushed to chase my writing dreams or having all those who died back, I would always choose having them live; the world would be a better place had they had more time. I don’t think I will ever stop grieving for the dead, for the lives unnecessarily lost, and as this more recent pandemic has reminded me, the other plague is yet  another source for my PTSD.

My birthday has ceased to have any meaning for me, other than as simply a marker of getting older. With every year the value of my birthday, my special day, has declined and decreased. I always say that my parents never made a big deal out of my birthday, and that’s both untrue and unfair–the older I get, the more fair I try to be with my parents–they were both very very young when I was a child, and both worked full time; and my father was also going to school at night. They never allowed my birthday to pass without there being cake and presents, but it wasn’t like it was ever like a whole day of celebratory; it was my birthday and it needed to be acknowledged and celebrated, but it wasn’t like they could take a day off and ignore their other obligations. As I got older my birthday inevitably was disappointing for me; my parents and sister obviously cared about it, but no one else seemed to, and there was a point when I realized that if I wasn’t the one making plans for my birthday, no one else would do it. I wanted my birthday to be a bigger deal, and to celebrate it, but my friends never seemed to care and many often simply blew it off. That kind of hurt, actually, and I think it was sometime in my mid-twenties that I finally decided to stop setting myself up for being hurt and disappointed and to put my birthday into its proper perspective: it wasn’t a special day, it wasn’t anything worth being disappointed over, and I made up my mind that I would never make a big deal of my birthday ever again–nor would I allow anyone else to do so. I would simply always take the day off from work, and do whatever it was I wanted to do.

Of course, it was my thirty-third birthday when I came to New Orleans and my life changed forever; hard to believe that was twenty-six years ago that I finally found my place, the city where I belonged and where I could have the life I wanted and my dreams would come true for me. My love affair with this crazy, wild, madcap, frustrating, infuriating but wonderful city began on my thirty-third birthday, which remains one the best birthday of my life thus far–and I can’t see how any other birthday could inevitably be better than that one. That’s another reason to not make a big deal out of my birthday, really; my thirty-third (and my forty-fourth) set the bar so high for wonderful birthdays that I never want to try to top those. Frankly, I don’t see how I ever could, really.

Last evening, when I got home from work I was very tired and worn out. Usually Wednesday is my work from home day, where I spend the afternoon making condom packs and watching movies. Thursdays I got into the office and make kits for the syringe access program on Fridays; but since this week my birthday fell on a Thursday and I intended to keep up my tradition of not working on my birthday, I went into the office yesterday and spent between six and seven hours making the kits. I was dog tired when I was finished; you can’t do it sitting down, so I was on my feet the entire time, other than short breaks to have something to drink or to have my lunch. I stopped at the grocery store on my way home to pick up a few things and rolled into the Lost Apartment, exhausted and tired and hot and sweaty….and then began unpacking my backpack, only to discover that my prescriptions, which I’d picked up on my way into the office, had been left behind at the office because I hadn’t gone back to my desk before leaving. This put me into a funk–I was already tired and bitchy, and while I know intellectually that I could probably go a day or two without my blood pressure medicine–the last of the previous refill was taken this morning–I really didn’t like the idea of going three days in a row without taking it. SO, grumble grumble grumble, my plans for today–essentially, not going on line, not dealing with emails, not doing any work of any kind while just being a slob (no shaving, no shower) and just throwing on sweats and finishing Lovecraft Country while also getting caught up on my Real Housewives shows was not to be; I was going to have to get in the car and go to the office; and my sanctuary day at home of not going out in public was going to be ruined. But as I sat and grumbled to myself while Scooter purred in my lap and I rewatched the LSU-Texas game from last season while playing Bubble Pop on my iPad, I realized: your birthday is an arbitrary day, really, and it doesn’t matter WHAT day you celebrate it. So, go by the office tomorrow; pick up the mail and go make groceries and pay the bills and do all the things you were planning to do on Friday, and make FRIDAY your hermit-away-from-the-world day.

So, that’s what I am going to do. I am going to spend the morning straightening things up around here, deciding what I want to make for my birthday dinner, trying to clean out the inevitable mass of emails in my inbox, and run those errands while trying to keep a positive face on the day. I may not get to everything I probably should–hey, it’s my birthday–but I will go ahead and make a good faith effort, and at least I don’t have to worry about the day job today.

And on that note, I’m going to get a second cup of coffee and start making some casual progress on things through the day–and I am still going to try to catch up on the Housewives  as well as spend some time in Lovecraft Country.

Have a love day, everyone.

What Have I Done to Deserve This?

It’s Saturday, and how lovely that feeling is. I am going to try to avoid social media as well as email interactions this weekend, as I want to be productive and I really don’t need any help with getting distracted. I was a condom packing machine yesterday, and Scooter was happily cuddled up to my feet as I had my lap desk and was working. I finally came up with the working system for maximum efficiency, and ultimately I was able to double my productivity in the same amount of time, which was quite impressive. It had been bothering me that I wasn’t as fast at home as I was at the office–or rather, in my old office on Frenchmen Street–but I also didn’t have the proper set-up until yesterday. I also had taken some time on Thursday to fold inserts, which also sped up my time yesterday. I also watched this week’s Real Housewives episodes, rewatched “The Bells” episode of Game of Thrones season eight (it’s quite a spectacle; more on that later) and then Dangerous Liaisons and The Maltese Falcon on the TCM menu on HBO MAX (which I love; there’s so much excellent film on that menu–things I want to rewatch and things I’ve always wanted to see). After dinner we finished off watching Into the Night, which had a lovely cliffhanger, and then started a Mexican Netflix drama, Control Z, which is quite intense. I do have to run an errand today, and I do have to spend some time cleaning out my email inbox–it’s ridiculously out of control again (doesn’t take long!)–and then I am going to reread Bury Me in Shadows and make notes on what to keep and what has to change. I’d also like to spend some time with “A Holler Full of Kudzu,” but there’s only so much time in one day and I only have so much attention span, really.

It’s gloomy and overcast out there this morning; we’re expecting rain off and on for most of the weekend because of now-Hurricane Hannah. I slept fairly decently most of the night, but still woke up feeling a little tired this morning. As much as I would like to be lazy for the day–and really, rereading a manuscript is the epitome of lazy, since I’ll be doing it in my easy chair–but it’s quite interesting and sort of amazing how much of a difference a good night’s sleep makes in my productivity when it comes to writing. The more tired I am, the more snappish I become–so it’s always a good idea to not be on social media or answer emails, as little things really get under my skin when I’m in that condition–but hopefully that won’t be an issue this evening. We shall see, I suppose.

I’m not really sure why I got the bug in my ear to rewatch that episode of Game of Thrones–it’s really amazing, given what a cultural phenomenon the show was while it was airing, how little anyone talks about it anymore. I think this is primarily due to the enormous disappointment the majority of viewers felt with its conclusion, and I certainly can’t disagree with those disappointed feelings. I, too, wasn’t terribly pleased with how the show ended, but at the same time, I wasn’t expected this world–which mirrored actual history with all its gore and good-doesn’t-always-win and evil-sometimes-goes-unpunished reality–to come to a happy ending; although Sansa did wind up as Queen of the North, so at least there’s some sense of justice in that, after everything she went through. And with her red hair, and all the suffering she endured, an argument could be made that she was sort of based on Queen Elizabeth I–who against incredible odds and twenty-five years of living in the shadow of the executioner–finally climbed to the throne. But I want to talk more about “The Bells” and the sack of King’s Landing–which was another episode that had fans disappointed and outraged. I was one of the few fans who was all about the city being destroyed; and I was also really pleased that they showed it from the ground for the most part–with Daenarys and Drogon only seen from below as the city burns and people die. It was exactly how I imagined the sacking of cities throughout history to look–rape and murder, blood in the streets, pillaging, hysterical terrified crowds running for their lives and praying for sanctuary as their world collapses around them. Conquerers never showed mercy; the concept everyone was hoping for that to happen once the bells were rung is very modern. Cities have historically been subject to such sackings throughout history; maybe not with a dragon involved, but read accounts of the many times Rome fell, or the fall of Constantinople–this wasn’t a modern world by any means, and modern concepts of justice and mercy weren’t in play. Cersei herself said it in Season One: “when you play the game of thrones, you either win or you die.” She played, she died, and she took her capital city with her. Power politics in medieval history–the closest proximation to the world of Game of Thrones–were bloody and cruel and merciless, and the Popes and the Church were just as involved and as ruthless as any king or emperor. Arya even alluded to this when she was wearing the face of Walder Frey and wiping out his entire house: “You didn’t kill all of the Starks. You should have ripped them out, root and stem. Leave one wolf alive and the sheep are never safe.” Ergo–if you don’t kill all of your enemies, you have no one but yourself to blame when they kill you.

Dangerous Liaisons is a great movie, and a great story as well. When the film came out, I bought a copy of the novel and was enthralled by the petty games of seduction and revenge that played out in its pages. (I didn’t see the film until years later, when I rented the video; I’ve seen both the Glenn Close version and the Annette Bening, Valmont; and of course the modern day remake with Ryan Philippe and Sarah Michelle Gellar, Cruel Intentions. There was an earlier, modern day version made in the 1960’s I’ve not seen; it’s in French and I’ve always wanted to see it.) The novel is exceptional; originally published (and banned) in France in 1782, it was quite a cause celebre at the time; depicting the immorality and debauchery of the aristocratic class, it has sometimes been described as being one of the initial steps on the road to revolution in 1789. It’s an epistolary novel; you are reading the letters the characters all write to one another, so you see how the Marquise and the Vicomte are playing with their innocent, naive friends and relatives quite well. They are only honest with each other–although, of course, in this modern age the lesson I took from it was never put anything in writing, which is just as true today as it was then–and I had always wanted to do a modern, gay version. I eventually did, with Wicked Frat Boy Ways, but while I am proud of the book I also wish I could redo it some, revise and add to it more.

The film is extraordinary, and Glenn Close was certainly robbed–as she has been many times–of the Oscar for Best Actress.

As for The Maltese Falcon, it’s still a great movie, but I didn’t finish watching–and would prefer to rewatch when I can give it my full attention. It really is marvelously written, acted, directed, and filmed. I should probably reread the novel someday.

And on that note, I am going to dive back into the spice mines. The kitchen and living room are both a mess; I have errands to run, and of course, that manuscript to read. Have a lovely, safe Saturday, Constant Reader, and I will see you tomorrow.

Free Ride

So, where were we?

I managed to finish that enormous volunteer project, with lots of thanks due to the others who worked on it with me; it’s so lovely to not have to worry about being organized because you are working with the “ur organizer” of all time, frankly.

Whew. I do know some pretty amazing people, you know?

I need to get started revising the Kansas book, but have just been so worn out and tired lately…it’s a big deal to finish a draft, a short story, and an enormous volunteer project all at the same time, you know? I now have to write an essay, a short story, and get to revising this manuscript but at the same time…it’s kind of lovely knowing I got all that other shit done.

I also managed to do something to my back yesterday at work–sitting in my chair wrong–and it’s been aching ever since. I used the heating pad last night (using it again this morning) and it’s horrible, of course–I can’t imagine what I did to make it hurt, but then…this is just another one of those lovely surprises about getting older: new aches and pains every day and you don’t know where they came from or why or what caused it.

But my book comes out in less than a week, so I should probably talk about it some more, right?

As I mentioned yesterday, I pretty much only regularly watch The Real Housewives of New York and Beverly Hills. I do keep up with Atlanta, and will check in on Orange County every now and then. I tried both Dallas and Potomac (I never watched DC or Miami), but didn’t get through the first seasons–but I’ve heard they’ve become more entertaining, so might check them out. I’ve not watched New Jersey in a long time; I really gave up on it after Caroline left the show; I know she was problematic to a lot of viewers and she did get on my nerves from time to time–but when she left and the show centered Teresa, I was down with it. While watching these shows, and having my loyalties and allegiances shift over the seasons, as the producers manipulate story-lines and decide what the audience will and won’t see, has been interesting. I’ve also been interested in watching the cultural phenomena around the Real Housewives, and while I rarely (if ever) agree with Camille Paglia, she is also a Housewives fan, and in an interview, when the shows came up, she compared them to soaps, and in particular, the popular prime time soaps of the 1980’s: Dallas, Dynasty, Knots Landing, etc. It was an interesting comparison, and not one I agreed with immediately, but the more I think about–and the way people talk about the shows–the more I think she was right. The prime time soaps were addictive, considered guilty pleasures no serious viewer would ever watch, and while several of them were driven by strong male leads, the women were centered and usually more interesting. There were never any male characters as interesting as the women on Knots Landing, and Blake might have been the main character on Dynasty, but the real driving force behind the show were the two women main characters, Krystle and Alexis. The housewives appeal to, like the prime time soaps, primarily women and gay male viewers. When I wrote my thesis on daytime soaps in college, one of the cultural impacts I wrote about the shows having was the decline of what was called “women’s pictures”–movies centering women characters and female stars. Whereas Bette Davis and Joan Crawford and many other women were big stars of the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s, it was the 1950’s and the rise of television that not only killed the studio system, but also killed off the popular genre of women’s pictures…and I do think that was not only due to television, but because all of daytime television centered, and was focused on, women. Women no longer had to pay money to go lose themselves in a fantasy world focused on strong women facing difficult situations heroically; they could spend all day watching heroic women facing difficult situations–and situations they could relate to more–Monday through Friday. The decline of soaps–both prime time and daytime–created another vacuum, and Bravo and these shows stepped up to fill that void.

There have been already some terrific books centering reality television; Jessica Knoll’s The Favorite Sister was, like her debut novel Luckiest Girl Alive, absolutely fantastic. But as I said, I thought it would be interesting to write my own version of a murder mystery centered on a reality show filmed in New Orleans. I’m fascinated by these people, who are willing to have their lives and interactions be filmed for the entertainment of the masses, be judged for it on social media and in recap columns, and ripped to shreds on message boards and Facebook groups. Some of them use their reality show to promote not only themselves but their businesses–the most famous of these is Bethenny Frankel, who became rich through her various Skinnygirl enterprises, all of which were boosted by her popularity on reality television, and Lisa Vanderpump, who used her reality fame to promote her restaurants in Los Angeles, even getting a spin-off show centered around the staff at one of her restaurants, Vanderpump Rules, which is even more popular than the housewives (I abandoned that show somewhere after season two). I think the Frankel/Vanderpump model is the golden ticket these women are looking for when they agree to be cast; but not everyone is as smart about controlling their image as those two are–nor have the kind of influence on production as they enjoy.

My fascination with these women, and their shows, and who they are and why they would do such a show, gave birth to the idea that eventually became Royal Street Reveillon. I liked the idea of Scotty being a fan, and interacting with the women on the New Orleans show while trying to get to the bottom of a murder…or two, or three. It was also kind of fun to write, frankly, and the older i get and the more I do this, the more important it is to me to enjoy myself while I am doing it.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader.

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Space Oddity

So, the eighth Scotty book drops in exactly one week. Those of you who preordered (and thank you!) might even already have Royal Street Reveillon in your hot little hands. Yay, for preorders, and thank you again if you did preorder.

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a long time, or follow me on social media, or do any of those lovely things that make me feel better about myself, are probably aware of one of my primary mantras of writing: never throw anything away because nothing you write is waste. It can, after all, always come in handy later. I’ve repurposed work before; Murder in the Rue Ursulines, the fourth Chanse novel, began life as the fourth Scotty, Hurricane Party Hustle. My short story “Survivor’s Guilt,” nominated for a Macavity Award, began life as a short story called “Blues in the Night,” and so on, and so on, and so on. Fragments removed from a novel have ended up in a short story; short story pieces have wound up inside novels. That’s why I always save everything, including drafts and partials–I never know when that writing might come in handy for something later, and it inevitably always does.

Many years ago, the publishing of fiction as ebooks only exploded with the development, and sales, of Amazon’s Kindle device, as well as those from competitors–I chose to go the iPad route, and use the apps for book reading; Kobo and Kindle and iBooks. A friend had started her own e-publishing company, and was encouraging me to develop a long-dormant idea for a series–the idea I had, almost from the earliest days of the Chanse series, of spinning off his reporter best bud, Paige Tourneur, into her own series. I am always willing to give new things, and new technology, a spin, and so I produced two lengthy novellas with Paige as a main character, out of a proposed five: Fashion Victim and Dead Housewives of New Orleans. The former was originally a short story I sat on for years; the latter an idea born of my interest/borderline obsession with reality television, primarily Bravo’s Real Housewives franchises. It was born of a joke between Paul and I, while he suffered in silence through my watching of these shows (mostly the New York and Beverly Hills editions; I never got into the others quite as much, although Atlanta and now Potomac I”m more hit and miss with) in which we picked women we thought would make interesting choices for a New Orleans franchise, and then would simply laugh and laugh, saying “Can you imagine?” The novellas, however, were on a very tight turn around time, and I was writing them between other novels I had contracted. They were good, but I was never completely satisfied with them, and Paige was, frankly, not as popular with readers as I thought she might be. People either loved the character or hated her; and of course, some Amazon reviewers disliked Paige’s feminist politics and her habit of using foul language.

Also, as it turned out, ebook marketing is a lot of work–work I didn’t have the time or knowledge to put in, and ultimately the return on the investment was simply not worth it. My friend and I agreed to cancel the series and the contracts, and shortly thereafter both novellas were pulled from Amazon.

And that, I thought, was the end of the great Paige experiment of mainstream crime fiction writing for me.

But I still believed, and still do, that the Dead Housewives idea was a good one, and deserved better than it got as an e-novella for Paige.

So…I decided to reboot and repurpose the idea, and develop it into a Scotty novel; and so a forty thousand word novella turned into a Scotty novel of closer to a hundred thousand words; it’s the longest Scotty book since Jackson Square Jazz. If you are an avid Greg reader, and you read Dead Housewives (thank you for that, by the way), some of Royal Street Reveillon might seem familiar; the opening party for the show, some of the characters and their relationships to each other, and so on. But the outcome of the story is different, and there’s a lot more going on in this book than in the original. Royal Street Reveillon is much closer to what I always wanted the story to be, and really, it works much better as a Scotty story than it ever would did as a Paige story. The “Grande Dames of New Orleans” are all the same women; I introduced Serena Castlemaine in Garden District Gothic, and also previewed the filming of the reality show in that book. Margery, Megan, Rebecca, Fidelis, and Chloe are the same women from the original, but their stories and relationships to each other (and in some cases, to their spouses and the men in their lives) are dramatically different. The first murder is different, and there are several more story threads in this final version of the story than there were before. And there is a lot more of Scotty’s personal story, and that of those he loves, in this book than in the original (obviously, as Scotty wasn’t in the original story).

And, for the record, the resolution of the mysteries (yes, plural) are markedly different than what it originally was.

Also for the record;  I am much more pleased with this book than I was with the original story. I hope you’ll like it, too.

I spent my entire Labor Day, well, laboring over a volunteer project; it’s still not quite finished despite the eight or so hours I dedicated to it yesterday, but I feel very confident that it will be finished tonight. So, while I didn’t really get to spend my long weekend relaxing as much as I would have liked, I was able to get some things done, including the draft of Bury Me in Shadows, this volunteer project, and I did sign the contract for that short story, which was lovely.

And so now on to a short week. I don’t have a short day this week until Friday, as I am covering for someone tomorrow evening, but that’s fine. I seem to have my sleep back under control again as well, which is a major plus and very satisfying.

So it’s off to the spice mines with me for the day. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

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I’m Doin’ Fine Now

Tuesday! We survived Monday, did we not? That is, ultimately, a reason for celebration.

And–believe it or not, I finished Chapter Eighteen last night, which was incredibly cool. I haven’t worked on Bury Me in Shadows in so long I was beginning to think I was never going back to it.

Huzzah! Go, Greg, go!

They are slowly starting to close the Bonnet Carre Spillway, meaning that the river is beginning to go down, and might soon no longer be in flood stage. As we are ever aware in New Orleans, water is the eternal problem for our sinking city, and we will all sleep a little better knowing the flood is, at long last, receding.

We also finished watching Big Little Lies last night, and I have to say, I enjoyed it and thought it wrapped everything up nicely in a way the first season’s finale did not; which, of course, made the second season necessary. There shouldn’t be a third season; this is all tied up in a nice bow, and there’s no need for a third. It was, in a way, kind of nice seeing the fall-out from the lie they all agreed to tell after the ending of the first season; how the repercussions and fall out from the lie undermined and destroyed their lives in the third season–although blaming the lie for Renata’s troubles, which were solely the fault of her man-boy husband, is a bit much.

I slept deeply and well last night, but unfortunately am still wishing I was still in bed. I’m sleepy and tired, but not from not sleeping well, but rather from getting up too early this morning. It’s of course day 2 of my marathon opening the week each week, and I managed to make it through my entire day yesterday without either getting tired or being tired. This morning I woke up tired. I am hopeful the process of going through my morning ablutions will finish waking me up, and of course, tomorrow I can sleep a little later since I don’t have to be in until later. It’s also pay day, which means pay-the-bills day, which is never particularly pleasant, either.

Of course, when I get home from work tonight I’ll be watching part two of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills reunion. I’m not entirely sure why; I have lost most of my interest in this show–it certainly doesn’t compare to either the New York or Atlanta (and, from what I’m seeing, Potomac) franchises, and I’m not entirely sure why. This past season’s emphasis on a boring storyline, having to do with a failed adoption of a dog and the fallout from the failed adoption, wasn’t particularly interesting, especially when production kept dancing around the reality of the actual situation and tried to force more drama out of it peripherally. Apparently, the show had new producers this season, and it showed; usually the women are at the mercy of production, but this season made it seem that the production was at the mercy of the women. One thing these shows are terribly good at it, though, is switching gears and manipulating the audience; a woman who is incredibly unlikable in one season can come out of another smelling like the proverbial rose, and vice versa. I try very hard not to get too involved in the outer trappings of these shows I watch–the energy expounded in watching the shows and deciding who to like and who not to like, and forming opinions on what I’ve seen, is more than enough time spent on them. I do occasionally like to read the recaps (some of which are absolutely hilarious) and will spend some time reading the comments on the recaps, simply to see how far off base my own opinions are, and to see how differently other people can process the very same thing I’ve watched. That, to me, is the most fascinating part of watching the shows–and it is very similar, as Camille Paglia pointed out (and it galls me to no end to agree with her about anything) the audience involvement with the reality television programs, and the Real Housewives franchises in particular, is very similar with how audiences used to get heavily involved in soap operas. An entire industry built up over soap fandom; the same is happening with the Real Housewives. 

The rise of reality television is also an interesting basis for a study on changes in American popular culture in the twenty-first century, which would make for either a brilliant long-form essay, or even a master’s thesis. (Someone, you are very welcome for this idea.)

Hopefully, tonight I will be able to tear through Chapter Nineteen after spending an hour rolling my eyes at the housewives. Gotta keep scratching things off that list, y’all.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree

Here it is, Wednesday already, and what have I got to show for the week thus far?

Very little, if I am going to be brutally honest. Other than losing my house keys at some point yesterday, which is incredibly annoying–particularly since we can’t seem to find the spare set of keys. Heavy sigh.

I used to misplace my keys and my wallet all the time; I can’t even begin to fathom how much time and energy in my life has been wasted looking for my keys and my wallet. When Paul and I first began living together a million years ago, he had a simple solution for the problem: simply put my keys and my wallet in a designated place every time I came home. A few years later I added a belt clip to my key ring, so I would always know where my keys were when I wasn’t home; they were clipped to a belt loop and therefore I always knew where they were. Yesterday, for some reason, at the office when I got in yesterday I tossed my key ring onto my desk, where they stayed for most of the day…and then when I got home last night, the house keys weren’t on my key ring. Which means, quite simply, at some point when I was clipping or unclipping my keys from my belt loop, the ring with the house keys must have come off. Yesterday I picked up a prescription and went out for lunch–so the keys could have come off at the pharmacy, the place I had lunch, either parking lot, or the parking lot at the office–or they could have come off on my desk when I was removing the key to my desk or the jump drive off the clip. I am hopeful they are either on or around my desk somewhere. Paul is going to have more keys made from his today regardless; but it’s still pretty fucking irritating.

But the good news, I guess, is I’ve only lost my keys twice in the last twenty-odd years. Granted, both times have been within the last three years, but it’s still a vast improvement over me spending hours per week trying to remember where I last put them.

This week I’ve been sleeping pretty well; this morning I stayed in bed longer than was completely necessary, and now I am a bit behind this morning, but that’s also fine. I tried not to let the missing keys bother me too much last night–it did annoy me, subconsciously, for most of the night, to be honest–but I just watched the snoozefest that the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills has turned into–and seriously, it’s so boring and dull and stupid these days that I am tempted to stop watching entirely because I don’t really care anymore–as I’ve said before, New York remains the gold standard for these shows. I’m very close to bailing on Beverly Hills, frankly; it’s not particularly interesting any more, plus the women on this show clearly have issues having the dirt of their private lives aired on television–as opposed to, say, New York and Atlanta, whose cast members clearly LIVE for living in front of the camera.

And yes, I probably spend far too much time with reality television.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Young Hearts Run Free

I continue to watch Chernobyl, which is mesmerizing as it is horrible. I am now up to episode four, and can’t look away. It’s horrifying and amazing and terrifying and so bleak, and perhaps the thing I can’t get out of my head is you were alive when this happened and was being reported in the news and I don’t ever recall knowing it was this bad–it was bad, but I never knew it was THIS bad.

And that is terrifying, so terrifying that it upsets my stomach and makes my blood run cold.

It is also a very cold, analytical look at what happens during a major disaster in a country where the news is under government control, and when a government is not only authoritarian, but where everyone is afraid to tell the next person higher up in the chain the truth when it’s bad news. It’s heartbreaking, and done in an almost documentary style. There was a point last night when watching that I thought, why are they all outside around the facility without any kind of shielding from the radiation? 

And then realized at that time, it no longer mattered; they were already so badly exposed their lives were essentially over. “Within five years,” is what they were told, and what they tell each other.

Absolutely horrific.

I didn’t get much writing done yesterday because I am at the point in the book where social issues come into play, and I am struggling because I don’t know how to make the points I want to make without sounding preachy or too “ABC After School Special”; I suppose the thing to do is not worry about any of that stuff because I can tighten and clean it up later, but when I am in the midst of writing I never think that way until the following morning, as I gaze bleary-eyed outside my windows into the grayness of the early dawn–you know, after I squandered my writing time the day before struggling.

Heavy sigh.

But in other good news, I have now slept well for two successive nights, which is lovely, and I woke up this morning without a problem when the alarm went off. Hopefully, that means not only will I make it through this long, long day, but won’t be bone-tired and exhausted when I get home. Of course, it’s Tuesday which means it’s a Real Housewives night, but frankly I find the Beverly Hills franchise to be rather boring this season. Perhaps some day I’ll write an entry about these shows and why I watch them, and what entertainment I get from them–but as Camille Paglia (whom I utterly detest, she is completely vile) once said, these shows replaced soaps, and the viewers are the same people who watched soaps; there is something camp and over-the-top about these shows, and the line between entertainment and reality has become so blurred with them that it is, actually, very soap-like; soap characters were like real people to their viewers, who talked about them like they were the people down the street. I don’t think Paglia’s analysis–it was part of a longer interview about culture in general–was particularly deep; it was kind of off-the-cuff and she hadn’t put much thought into the analysis, but she did strike a vein of truth with this, one that bears deeper thought and analysis and comparison (although I really disliked her comparing Tamra from Orange County to Donna Mills’ Abby from Knots Landing), and maybe someday I will do that.

When I have time. Because I have so much free time these days.

I also fell down into a rabbit hole yesterday–which, while a lot of fun, was also an enormous time-waster. This morning, the curiosity I had about the rabbit hole which was so intense and couldn’t be ignored, somehow doesn’t seem quite as intense as it did yesterday in the heat of the moment. Don’t get me wrong, I am still quite curious…but I don’t need to be refreshing social media to see new theories or discoveries.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader.

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Tonight She Comes

Reality television.

I started watching in back in the original days of The Real World on MTV; the social experiment of picking vastly different young people from vastly different places with vastly different backgrounds, to see whether or not they can learn from each other and grow; or simply clash and create drama for the cameras. I enjoyed watching, I’m not going to lie–I didn’t lose interest until later seasons, when it became all about the kids getting drunk and hooking up and so forth. But the influence of The Real World–and its sister show, Road Rules–on reality television is unmistakable.

I’ve stuck my toe in the water with several reality shows–I used to be completely addicted to Project Runway, until it left Bravo for Lifetime and I lost interest–and the same with RuPaul’s Drag Race–after the Adore/Bianca/Courtney season I didn’t see how it could be anything other than a disappointment going forward so I stopped (although I did tune in for the glory that was RPD All-Stars Season Two), but I never got into Survivor or The Bachelor or any of the others. But I do watch the Real Housewives–New York is, without question, the gold standard, with Atlanta a close second with Beverly Hills trailing them both substantially; I can’t with Potomac, Orange County, and Dallas. 

I also really enjoyed the first season of Lifetime’ UnReal, but got behind on Season 2, heard bad things, and so never picked it back up again.

My love of (some of) the Housewives shows has resulted in my winding up on two Housewives related panels over the years at Bouchercon (Albany and New Orleans, to be precise), which were enormously fun; and I have also managed to observe what a cultural phenomenon these shows have become. There are recaps everywhere all over the Internet; there’s the Bravo website itself; and these women are often sprawled all over the tabloids I see while in line at the grocery store. (And no, I have only ever watched about twenty minutes of a Kardashian show and it was so horrible I never went back. More power to you if you’re a fan, but they are just not for me.

I even wrote a very short book–which is no longer available anywhere–based on the filming of such a show in New Orleans; it was pulled from availability primarily because I was never truly satisfied or happy with it. I wrote it very quickly in a window between deadlines and never felt I was able to explore all the things, the issues, with reality television that I wanted to with it. And yes, I decided to use that same backstory–a Real Housewives type show filmed in New Orleans–to write the new Scotty book because 1) it’s a great idea and 2) since I am writing off dead-line I can do it the way I want to and hopefully say the things I wanted to say in the first. Some of the original elements of the story I used before still exist in this Scotty book, but there’s a lot of changes I’ve made so it’s not the same story. The draft is very very rough, and since I’ve finished it and put it aside I’ve had a lot of great ideas for it; fixes and changes and so forth.

I think it might be the best Scotty yet, and it’s certainly the most complicated.

I started reading Jessica Knoll’s The Favorite Sister yesterday, and before I knew what happened most of the afternoon was gone and I was about half-way through. Her book is also built around a reality television show, and boy, is this book biting. I loved her debut, Luckiest Girl Alive, and this one is just as good. You’ll get a full report, Constant Reader, when I finish it.

Next up for the Short Story Project: “Don’t Walk in Front of Me” by Sarah Weinman, from Baltimore Noir, edited by Laura Lippman:

I wanted honest work and got it at Pern’s. A Jewish bookstore is a strange place to work for a guy like me, but I didn’t have much choice; a month of job hunting left me frustrated and ready to break things, and the ad stuck on the store’s main window was as close to salvation as I could get.

Thus Sam–we were on a first-name basis from the beginning–was very particular about which items I could handle and which I couldn’t (“Anything with God’s name on it, leave it to me”), he left me to my own devices when it came to  handling teh cash register, stocking the books, and helping out customers. I hadn’t know much at all about Judaism, but I sure learned fast.

When I told my mother where I was working, she was understandably confused, but got over it quickly enough. I had a job, and a pretty decent one, and that was what mattered to her most.

“I worried about you, Danny, the whole time you were incarcerated. She articulated each syllable, just as she did every time she used the word. Which was a lot, because my mother adored big words. It was her way of showing how much more educated she was than the rest of the mamas in Little Italy.

Sarah Weinman is a fine short story writer; her stories in Lawrence Block’s stories-inspired-by-art are two of my favorites. Her upcoming study of the kidnapping case that inspired Lolita, The Real Lolita, will be out this fall and I can’t wait to dig into it. This story is another one of her little gems: a guy with a criminal past takes the only job he can get, and slowly but inexorably gets drawn into trying to help his boss solve a personal problem, and how things get out of hand from there. Brava, Sarah! WRITE MORE SHORT STORIES.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Caribbean Queen

It’s raining this Sunday morning in New Orleans, with the occasional growl of thunder and a constant leak from the gray skies overhead. When I woke up, this leak was a faucet, turned all the way to high and so loud I wasn’t certain it could actually  be rain; my first thought was I wonder if the streets are flooding again and my second we have tickets to see The Last Jedi at one fifteen; will we be able to make it to the Palace theater in Harahan? As my first cup of coffee brewed this morning I checked to see if there are any reports of flooding in the city; there aren’t, and none are, apparently, expected. And yet any rain here carries with it the possibility of rising water and ruined cars, fears of hundreds of dollars in repairs if you are lucky, scrambling to find the money for a new one while battling with your insurance company and your lender in the meantime.

I worked yesterday, ran some errands, came home and made myself barbecue-flavored chicken nuggets in the oven; the TGIFriday’s brand, frozen food, heated for ten minutes on each side at 375 degrees in the oven. It’s easy and quick, doesn’t taste horrible, and fills the emptiness; Paul was also at work and we were going to a Christmas party last night in Uptown so I didn’t see any need in actually making any food that would make a mess; I’ve not had time to clean and organize and file this week; but I am hoping to get all of that done this morning before we brave the storms to see our movie. There’s something comforting and relaxing about rain, though, despite its imminent and constant threat here, I’ve always found rain to be a relaxing experience, a cozy one; safe inside from the wetness and able to witness it through windows, warm and dry and somehow protected.

Yesterday I finished reading yet another book, another one that I enjoyed tremendously; Reality Boy by A. S. King. I’ve had the book for quite some time, it’s been in my TBR pile for years now. I don’t remember why I bought it, other than an interest in the subject matter; the after-effects of being a reality show celebrity as a child. I’ve always watched, enjoyed and been fascinated by reality television; one of my early ideas for a Scotty novel involved a Real World type show being filmed in New Orleans (that show has filmed here twice; the first time in my neighborhood). Even early on, I saw, in The Real World, the classic Agatha Christie set-up: a group of strangers thrown together in a confined space, forced to interact with each other and all for the benefit of cameras, some hidden and others hand-held. It seemed perfect for a classical-style locked room murder mystery; the locked room, of course, being the cameras. I toyed with it and played with the notion for several years, before finally deciding on the bizarre plot that became Mardi Gras Mambo; the first iteration of that novel was the reality show plot that I eventually lost interest in and threw away so I could start over. Reality television has taken over our culture in so many ways; you are just as likely to see a reality “star” staring at you from the covers of the tabloids and celebrity magazines in the check-out line at the grocery store as you are to see an actor or an actress or a member of British royalty. I do watch some reality television still to this day, primarily franchises of the Real Housewives, some more so than others, and other shows I absolutely will not watch, as though some of these shows are somehow more highbrow, more morally and intellectually pure, than others.

As I said the other day, I had decided to get through some of the young adult fiction in my TBR pile once I’d finished Krysten Ritter’s Bonfire, and I greatly enjoyed The Truth About Alice. Reality Boy has been in my pile for quite some time; and I pulled it out and started reading it Friday night once I’d finished the Ritter and Alice. Reality Boy was, in a word, quite extraordinary; I’m not sure that I would classify it as full-on noir, but it’s definitely domestic suspense bordering on domestic noir.

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I’m the kid you saw on TV.

Remember the little freak who took a crap on his parents’ oak-stained kitchen table when they confiscated his Game Boy? Remember how the camera cleverly hid his most private parts with the glittering fake daisy and sunflower centerpiece?

That was me. Gerald. Youngest of three. Only boy, Out of control.

One time, I did it in the dressing room at the mall. Sears, I think. My mom was trying to get me to try on some pants and she got the wrong size.

“Now you stay right there,” she said. “I’ll be back with the right size.”

And to protest having to wait, or having to try on pants, or having to have a mother like her, I dropped one right there between the wicker chair and the stool where Mom’s purse was.

And no, it wasn’t excusable. I wasn’t a baby. I wasn’t even a toddler. I was five. I was sending a message.

As much as I enjoy the reality shows I watch, one thing that has always put me off about them is when adults use their children as props on these shows. It’s one thing when you’re an adult, or when your children are adults and have the kind of agency to decide whether they want their life to be turned into a circus or not. It’s entirely another when parents decide they want their young children trotted out for the cameras like some dog-and-pony show to show off what great parents they are, or how talented their children are, or how cute they are. I particularly loathed those ‘nanny’ shows, where ‘problem’ children were trained by a some Mary Poppins stand-in to be behave better when their parents can’t control them; those videos and tapes are going to, I have often felt and believed, haunt those kids for the rest of their lives.

The premise of Reality Boy is precisely that.

Gerald, at ages five and six, appeared with his family on one of those nanny shows, and his particular problem was that he defecated as a sign of rebellion and protest; in his mother’s shoes, in the hallway, etc. He became viral and forever known as the Crapper. He is now sixteen going on seventeen, his family is still just as dysfunctional as ever, and he is regularly taunted, mocked and bullied for his reality show past. Being a teen is hard enough for any number of reasons–as explored in The Truth About Alice, for example–but imagine being famous/infamous for behavior when you were a small child, on television.

Reality Boy is about Gerald’s learning to cope with his past, learning to cope with his future, and recognizing, at long last, that he could have a future. It’s exceptionally well done, and as King reveals the layers of dysfunction that led to Gerald’s behavior, the truth of his life and his own reality, why he is been labelled a problem child and a disgrace, are even more horrible. And yet Gerald has to find the strength to cope, to deal, and to by the time the book ends, there’s hope that Gerald’s life is going to get better. It’s extremely well done, Gerald comes to fully-realized life beautifully on the page, and his burgeoning relationships with new friends and maybe, even, just possibly, a girlfriend–help him to grow and understand. It’s incredibly well done, and it’s also a cautionary tale that needs to be sent to anyone who’s ever trotted their children out for the cameras for fame and money. It makes you wonder what Honey Boo-Boo’s life is going to be like when she’s seventeen, or Teresa Giudice’s daughters (they’ll probably still be on television). It also makes you wonder just how complicit those of us who watch these shows are in the possible damage being wrought on these children.

My current Scotty book has me returning to the reality well, only this time with a Real Housewives-type show. I’ve already done nine chapters, and had already decided to toss those and start over because it wasn’t going in the direction I wanted it to go; I wasn’t saying what I wanted to say in the book. I had planned on starting it over again, but now…now I am thinking I need to sit down and think through what I want to say in it, maybe plan it a little more than I’ve ever planned a Scotty book before. I don’t know, but I’ll be keeping you posted.

Lust to Love

Thursday! This week has slipped right through my fingers, hasn’t it? I looked at my weekly to-do list and was very disappointed to see many things not crossed off, that will have to carry over until next week. I am going through the WIP painstakingly; I am doing a line edit, which is something I’ve not done in a long time on one of my own manuscripts (which is really shameful to confess; in my own defense the copy editors haven’t had to do too much to my manuscripts to clean them up because I generally write very clean copy to begin with), but I am also trying to make this manuscript leaner than it came in on the last several drafts; it’s still sitting at over a hundred thousand words and at most, it should be ninety. At MOST. But it’s taking me longer to do than an usual edit, and I am having to pay more attention because I don’t have long stretches of time to dedicate to it, grabbing an hour here or there whenever I can. I will probably wind up working on it a lot this weekend because I really want to get it finished, once and for all.

I’ve also been revising a short story at the same time, and that’s coming along really well, too. I am very happy with the writing I’ve been doing, which is a lovely thing.

So, The Great Gatsby. I’ve been thinking about it a lot since I finished reading it the weekend before last, and while I am still not convinced it is either the great American novel or a masterpiece, I did enjoy it much more than I did when I was a teenager and had to read it for American Lit at Bolingbrook High.

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In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

“Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.

He didn’t say any more but we’ve always been unusually communicative in a reserved way and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that. In consequence I’m inclined to reserve all judgements, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores. The abnormal mind is quick to detect and attach itself to this quality when it appears in a normal person, and so it came about in college I was unjustly accused of being a politician, because I was privy to the secret griefs of wild, unknown men.

When I read this book in high school, all I could think was how boring. As my teacher went on and on about the symbolism of the green light on the dock, the eyes on the billboard in the valley of ashes on the road from the Long Island twin villages of East and West Egg (where the Wilsons’ garage was), the valley of ashes itself, and on and on, I just rolled my eyes in the back of the room, unable to wait to get back to reading whichever Ellery Queen or Agatha Christie or P. G. Wodehouse or Victoria Holt or Phyllis A. Whitney novel was next up in the stack from the library. My primary takeaway from the book? Every character in it was awful, even Nick Carraway, the narrator who knew everything, said nothing, and allowed the tragedy to unfold.

Several years ago, I was talking about books with a writer friend and I just kind of casually tossed out the notion, without putting a lot of thought into it, that “I mean, The Great Gatsby is a murder mystery told in reverse. A crime writer would have started with the body in the pool, unpeeling the layers that led Wilson to shoot Gatsby, with the big reveal at the end that Daisy was actually driving the car.”

Laura Lippman, one of our most talented voices and one of the smartest people I know, has said that she doesn’t like when people take books that are considered ‘literature’  and use them as examples of crime novels, to give the genre more cred (and is there anything more annoying than the phrase elevates the genre? Whenever I see that it makes me homicidal, because it implies that everything else in the genre is garbage), like those who say, “well, Crime and Punishment is a crime novel.” The definition of mystery that Mystery Writers of America uses, though, (paraphrasing) is “any fiction about a crime; the commission of, the solving of,  the events leading to,and/or the after-effects of,  a crime.” Dostoyevsky’s book certainly fits that description, as does To Kill a Mockingbird, Les Miserables, Sanctuary, and so many other books. Laura’s point, though, is that there are plenty of crime novels that are literature and can be seen as such without having to pull in books that aren’t traditionally seen as crime novels to give the genre credibility.

But in all honesty, I would rather read The Great Gatsby written as a crime novel rather than the way it is written and structured. It’s fine–don’t come for me, Gatsby fans, seriously–as it is, but I think the themes could be explored more deeply in a crime novel. On this read, I didn’t find I cared or liked the characters any more than I did the first time; I’m certain that was Fitzgerald’s intent. Nick, our narrator and our introduction to the glittering world of the rich in the 1920’s, may not be the most reliable narrator. Tom and Daisy are, frankly, awful people. Tom is an aggressive bully who thinks nothing of cheating on his wife or hitting a woman; the scene where he breaks Myrtle Wilson’s nose is horrific. Daisy is a self-absorbed narcissist needing constant entertainment; the two of them are a perfect match, and one can only wonder about how awful of a person their daughter will be when she grows up. (Hmmm, now there’s a book idea: Daisy’s Daughter.)

We don’t really learn much about Gatsby at first, other than he seems to have a lot of money, lives in an enormous house in less fashionable West Egg, and throws a lot of parties. There are lots of rumors about him, which Nick dutifully records, but the reader does eventually discover that he grew up very poor, but during World War I he was briefly stationed in Louisville before deploying, where he met and fell in love with Daisy before she married Tom. Whether he actually loved her or simply became obsessed with her we never know, as readers; but not being good enough for Daisy is what drove him to get money–because he believed that his poverty was the thing that kept Daisy from his side, and also convinced himself that she loved him. They do reunite during the course of the book, but again, Daisy isn’t really in love with him. She’s just bored and knows Tom is cheating on her, but in the big confrontation scene in the apartment in New York where Tom usually meets Myrtle, Daisy just sits there and won’t commit to either man. She is the one who accidentally runs Myrtle over in the road–which leads her cuckolded husband to shoot Jay Gatsby while he floats on an inflatable raft in his pool. The funeral of the man who threw such lavish parties, filled with people, is sparsely attended; Tom and Daisy simply go away, wash their hands of the mess, and go on with their lives. Gatsby–and Myrtle–were just blips in their lives; speed bumps they had to slow for and forgot about once they moved past. Nick’s disgust with them–which they would no doubt laugh about as bourgeois middle class moralizing, also leads him to end his budding relationship with the athletic Jordan Baker, who is basically cut from the same cloth. She cares so little for Nick, it turns out–who she has been seeing for the entire summer–that when he didn’t call her for a few days she just shrugged and moved on. An embittered Nick says of them all, They were careless people, unconcerned with the people whose lives they’ve smashed.

The book sadly still holds up in its theme; the rich continue to be careless and unconcerned with other people; almost more so today than in Fitzgerald’s time. Gatsby, so desperate to be one of them, was never accepted and forgotten once he was gone.

I enjoyed the book much more this time out; as an adult, its look at classism in what was supposed to be a classless society made more sense, and resonated more, and the characters seemed more real; the thirteen year old sophomore who originally read the book didn’t know enough of the world for the book to resonate. It would be terrific if someone would do an homage-like update of the story; although the case could be made that this is a storyline that runs through almost every iteration of the Real Housewives shows.

And now, back to the spice mines.